Cover letter etiquette: What should your cover letter say?
Some see cover letters as an insignificant part of the job search. Stand out by paying extra attention to yours.
You found a great job on Monster—fantastic. Time to apply! While job seekers often spend countless hours developing their resumes, they tend to treat their cover letters as an afterthought. Don't make this critical mistake; the cover letter can help your resume get noticed.
Think of the cover letter as your resume's cheerleading section. To make the best impression, follow these etiquette rules:
Say no to the cover letter cop-out
The first rule of cover letter etiquette is to send a cover letter—always. It doesn't matter if the hiring manager didn't ask for it or you're too busy to write one. It's proper business etiquette to accompany a resume with a cover letter, and it gives you the opportunity to help sell yourself for the position.
Busy hiring managers don't have time to wade through letters that could pass for dissertations. Get to the point as expeditiously as possible, and break any paragraphs seven lines or longer into short, easily digestible ones.
When sending an email cover letter, brevity is even more important. The nature of email calls for concise communication, in part because it's harder to read on screen than on paper. However, don't fall prey to the one-line cover letter that some job seekers try to pass off. It goes something like this: "Please see attached resume, and thank you for your time and consideration." You should be able to write a convincing cover letter in a few brief paragraphs.
Keep it professional but friendly
While a resume is generally a formal document, cover letters give you a chance to reveal your personality. Not only do you want to show that you're a good fit for the position, but you also want the reader to like you. Appropriate use of humor, combined with a friendly and professional tone, can help endear you to the hiring manager.
Whenever possible, address your letter to a specific person. If a job posting doesn't include a person's name, do some research to find out who the correct person is. Try calling the employer (but do respect ads that state "no phone calls"), and ask a receptionist for the hiring manager's name. Keep the salutation professional by using "Dear Mr. Jones," not "Dear Jim."
Focus on the employer's needs
If every other sentence of your letter begins with "I" or "my," you need to change the focus. Research the employer and find out what types of problems managers there are facing, qualities they look for in employees and their future goals. Then use your letter to prove that you are the answer to their problems. The most compelling letters demonstrate what you can do for the employer, not what the employer can do for you.
Your cover letter will stand out if you employ some creativity. For example, you could include a brief summary of your toughest sale or most challenging project.
You could incorporate excerpts of performance reviews to highlight your record of success. Or, you could create two columns in your letter to demonstrate precisely how you meet the employer's requirements:
- Your ad specifies: Five years' experience in IT.
- And I deliver: Six years of superior-rated performance in network design and administration.
Cover letters should be free of errors, so thoroughly proofread them before sending. If proofreading is not your strong suit, get help from someone with meticulous proofreading skills. If you're customizing a cover letter that you use for many positions, remove any placeholders; this will prevent embarrassing errors such as "I would be delighted to be your next ." And one last tip: Whatever you do, spell the hiring manager's name correctly.
Following cover letter etiquette can take time, but the reward is worth it: more calls for interviews and a greater chance of securing a new position.
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A cold call cover letter
How to ask for a job
Write a cold call cover letter. Are you kidding me?
This is a typical response when I suggest to my clients that they should try this approach in their job search strategy.
In fact, many people aren't even sure what a 'cold call' letter is. No mystery......it is simply making an approach to an organisation cold. That is, they probably don't know you. And.....you don't know if there is a job opportunity available with them.
Yet, something you should know is......making a direct approach to an employer with a cold call cover letter, combined with a follow up phone to your letter sometimes produces amazingly good results.
Initiating contact with employers on your target list with a cold call letter is a much better option than waiting for job ads to appear.
This is what is meant by being proactive in your job search strategy.
And..... this is one way to tap into the hidden job market. As you may already know, only a small percentage of the available work, somewhere around 20-40%, is advertised.
Below are some simple guidelines to follow for making cold contacts, but first, before we look at how to write a cold call letter.......
Why don't people write cold call cover letters?
Simple answer.....people don't like rejection! They are afraid of getting a "No", or perhaps worse, no response at all from the person they have written to.
And.....it's true, this might actually happen. You might get "No Thanks", or no response whatever.
For other people, they won't write a cold call cover letter because they don't want to be thought of as being "pushy".
If these types of things are holding you back from implementing this legitimate, and sometimes successful jobsearch strategy, please look at the ideas below for overcoming fear of rejection.
Cold call cover letter tips
Don't do what many direct marketers do.
Their approach is to bombard the market place with hundreds, sometimes thousands of letters. Everyone get exactly the same letter!
If you've received a letter like this, well......you can guess why this approach gets such a poor response.
These types of marketers think a 1% response rate to their cold call letters is a reasonable result.
So, tip number one is.....do not write a generic, one size fits all cold call letter.
Make sure each letter you send is carefully and highly targeted, and relates to the needs or interests of your reader.
Overcoming fear of rejection
No one likes getting a "No" - having their approach rejected. As previously mentioned, some people think it is being pushy to make uninvited contact with a letter. Fear of being thought of as pushy is just another expression of the fear of rejection.
Using the principle - it's not what happens to you in life, it's how you respond to what happens that makes the difference.Here are some techniques for handling rejection that some people find helps them - simply click on a link below to jump to the section you need:
Develop your self confidence
Develop a healthy self confidence in your product - the product that is "you", and what you have to offer an employer.
If you're unsure about what you have to offer, do a career review, and a career self assessment.
By doing this thoroughly you will come to the realisation that you have made valuable contributions in the past, and are capable of doing so in the future.
Develop a genuine self confidence based on the evidence you gather about your career from doing a career review.
Write your cold call cover letter knowing that you have what it takes!
Develop a features/benefits list of your capabilities
One outcome from a career review will be that you have a concise understanding of what your most employable skills and knowledge are. Sales people would refer to these attributes as being product "features".
It's one thing to know what your employable features are, but the next step is to sell them to an employer.
How? For each skill or component of technical or specialist knowledge you have (your features) write a statement of benefit, or benefits to the employer that you will be cold contacting.
Feature: - I have well developed interpersonal communication skills.
- This means I'm able to relate well with customers which in turn helps them to form a favourable impression of the organisation.
- I am able to quickly form effective working relationships with both my clients and co-workers.
- I find that I am able to easily win the trust, confidence and respect of people that I deal with.
Cold call cover letter tips
The various "features", and accompanying "benefits" that you want to promote to the employer will be your sales pitch.
The most successful sales people know that their clients buy because of the benefits......no the features.
So.....make sure that for every feature you claim you have, explain the benefit, or relevancee of that feature to the employer.
Manage your self talk - it's just business!
Don't take "No" personally. Think of it as something that just happens sometimes.....it's just business.
Remind yourself that it is your sales pitch, not you the individual that is being rejected.
There are also many other reasons why your approach might be rejected, reasons that have nothing to do with your approach. For example:
- There might be a hiring freeze in the organisation
- There isn't a budget at present to take on a new staff member
- There's an internal organisation re-structure that is taking place and new staffing needs are not yet clear enough to make hiring decisions
You can probably think of dozens more quite valid reasons for an organisation saying no to your approach.
So.......when you get a "No", remind yourself......it's just business!
Also......"No" doesn't always mean "No forever" - it means "not now".
Offer solutions to problems
In keeping with the idea that your letter is a type of 'sales pitch', remember that what is likely to get people interested is if you provide solutions to their problems.
If the client can see that the proposed solution will actually solve their problem, then it is quite likely they will make the purchase. Or, in this case......hire you!
Consider the perspective of the person reading your cold call letter. If someone had written to you, for example, clearly showing that they understand your business, problem etc......and they are also proposing a solution......would you be interested?
The answer almost certainly is going to be yes.....of course you'd be interested.
By approaching an employer with a possible solution to a problem that they have, you're at least giving them something to think about.
Cold call cover letter tips
The bottom line when it comes to deciding whether to write a cold call letter, or not, is......be prepared to ask for what you want.
If you never ask an employer on your target list if there is a job opportunity, you'll certainly never find out if there's a position available or not.
Writing your cold call cover letter
Before you start.....
When you send a cold call cover letter to an employer they won't know who you are, or why you are writing to them.
This means, to maximise the chances of getting your letter read.....you need to first:
- attract the reader's attention, and then
- create their interest in what you are writing about.
How do you do this?
Do your research first
You must start your letter with a hook......something that will attract the attention and interest of the reader.
To achieve this you will have to do research into the organisation that you are writing to, such as:
- Research the industry in which the organisation operates so that you understand the bigger picture of the area in which it operates.
- What issues are having an impact on the industry, and as a consequence on the organisation at local, state, federal and international levels.
- Who are the main competitors of the organisation, and what are they doing that might be having an impact on the organisation you are approaching
- Has the organisation been featured in local or business media, and if so why?
Armed with this type of information you can then pitch the content of your letter around an issue, or issues that are relevant to the organisation.
Cold call cover letter format
Set out the content of your cold call letter into four paragraphs as follows:
- First paragraph - this is your attention grabber describing a relevant problem or opportunity for the reader
- Second paragraph - this is your proposal - what you are able to offer in terms of solving the problem, or taking advantage of the opportunity that you have described
- Third paragraph - provide supporting evidence that you can do what you are proposing; usually a summary of your relevant skills, experience, specialised knowledge etc.
- Fourth paragraph and final paragraph - if you want to enclose your resume, explain that it is attached. Then explain your suggested next steps, for example...."I'll call you on......"
Keep your letter to just one page in length.
You'll find that this cover letter format will make it easy for the reader to follow your ideas and to identify the key points you are making in your letter.
Opening paragraph for a cold call cover letter
This is the most important part of your cold call cover letter. If the opening paragraph isn't read, then it is unlikely the rest of the letter will be read.
Here are some suggestions for attention grabbing opening paragraphs:
- Explain something that you've done in your career that is relevant. For example "In my current (or last) position I....(outline a quantifiable, or important result that you produced). It occurred to me that you might be interested in speaking with a person who could produce a similar result for your organisation."
- Begin with a positive or upbeat statement relating to something you know about the organisation - "As a professional in the X industry I have been a long time admirer of the exceptional quality of service and advice X organisation delivers to its clients."
- Describe a problem you have identified that might be having an impact on the organisation's business, and that you have some suggestions, and/or some past experience to offer for resolving this type of issue.
- Alternatively, indicate that you have identified an opportunity that might potentially benefit the organisation, and that you have some ideas, and/or related experience that will help the organisation to take advantage of this.
Cold call cover letter - who to contact
This is very important. Write to a decision maker - usually the line manager of the area in the organisation in which you'd like to work.
Avoid sending your cold call cover letter to a support department such as Human Resources.
A letter to HR almost always gets one of two responses - your letter is either ignored, or you get a standard letter response "Thank you for your interest, there are no jobs at present, we'll keep your details on our files."
Cold call cover letter tips
How do you find out the name of the decision maker in an organisation in which you'd like to work?
Make a phone call to the organisation. Explain that you have some important information you would like to send to them. Indicate that you want to ensure that this reaches the correct person.
Then ask for the name and position title of the relevant person, and check for the correct spelling of their name.
There is no need to identify yourself. Also, have a bit of a story prepared if you are asked by the telephone receptionist if you are asked a question like "what is this in relation to?"
Follow up your letter
The whole idea for writing a cold call cover letter is to be proactive in your jobsearch.
This means it will be up to you to initiate the next steps and get a response to your letter. You should not rely on the organisation getting back to you.
This is why you explain in the last paragraph of your letter the action you intend to take. The best follow up is for you to make contact a few days after sending your letter - perhaps allow 3-4 days before following up.
How to follow up your cold call letter
Prepare for your telephone follow up so that you maintain the professional image you created in your letter, and your resume if you have attached this to your letter.
Remember, it will be up to you to take responsibility for the direction of the conversation with the person that you have written to. A possible script for the follow up phone call could be as follows:
- Say hello and then introduce yourself.
- Explain the purpose of your call - "I'm contacting you about a letter I recently wrote to you about......in which I proposed......."
- Find out if your letter has been received, and also read by the person to whom you are speaking. Ask specifically"Have you received my letter?" and if the answer is "Yes", then ask"Have you had the opportunity to read it yet?"
- If your letter has been read, determine the response to your proposal - for example "What thoughts have you had about my proposal?", or "How relevant is the problem I outlined to your organisation?"
- If there is interest in your proposal, or agreement that the problem you've identified is relevant, ask for a meeting to further discuss the situation, and in particular to explain how you can help with the issue.
- If there is no interest, clarify if this means there is no interest at the present time. It could be that your proposal might be of interest later on. If so, ask if you can stay in touch.
- If you feel as though you have developed a good rapport with the person you've called indicate that you have enjoyed speaking with them, and ask if you can keep in contact with them from time to time in future.
Asking to maintain occasional contact with people that you've sent a cold call cover letter to is an excellent way of expanding your network of professional contacts.
It's also good practice. You've done the hard work in establishing contact, it makes sense to continue to build the relationship. You have no way of knowing who your contact might speak to, about you, within their own network in future.
Making unsolicited contact, in other words a cold call, with organisations and people that you would like to work for is a valid jobsearch strategy.
Many people have created all sorts of exciting opportunities for themselves because they took the initiative to make cold call contacts.
Here are some other links that will assist you in your jobsearch: